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(Seemingly) Good News: It’s Illegal to Carry a Loaded Gun on Campus

by on October 07, 2015 6:00 AM

In case you were wondering:

“The possession, carrying, or use of any weapon, ammunition, or explosive by any person is prohibited on all University property except by authorized law enforcement officers and other persons specifically authorized by the University.”

That’s Penn State Policy SY12 -- WEAPONS, FIREWORKS, AND PAINTBALL DEVICES.

After what just happened at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, the PSU policy is somewhat comforting.

But there’s a loophole.

If you are a licensed gun owner, Penn State police will store it for you. And since your weapon cannot float into the storeroom at the Eisenhower Parking Deck under its own power, you are allowed to carry your weapon on campus if you are bringing it to the police or retrieving it from the police.

Which means you can legally carry a weapon on university property – as long as it isn’t loaded. So far this year, 176 students and employees have stowed their weapons in the prescribed manner.

The storeroom is about the size of a broom closet. Most of the weapons are in cases. If you took a quick look you might think this was where a small school kept its band instruments.

My tour guide, Sgt. Frank Ball, told me the arsenal consists of hunting rifles, a smattering of non-automatic assault rifles, some handguns, a bow and arrow or two and the odd muzzleloader.

If 176 weapons sounds like a scary number, keep in mind that this is Central Pennsylvania. Some students hunt. Some like to target shoot. Some check their weapons in and out frequently; others, only occasionally.

Whatever they’re doing with those weapons when they sign them out, it’s nice to know that they can’t just reach for ‘em when they’re drunk or angry.

But are there weapons floating around the dorms? No way to know.

Will a person intent on committing murder be deterred by a prohibition against the possession of a loaded murder weapon? Not likely.

Crime researchers tell us that campus violence is exceedingly rare. But rarity is neither here nor there. If just one of the 46,000 students at University Park were to go on a shooting rampage this year, that would be a very rare event indeed. And its rarity would be no comfort whatsoever to the families of the victims.

Nor to the rest of us, either.

Since we will not be able to eliminate mental illness or lethal weapons any time soon, we won’t be able to eliminate shooting rampages any time soon. But can we make them rarer? We don’t know because we haven’t tried.

A friend thinks this could be the moment. If ever there was a moment, I replied, it was after Newtown. The murder of 20 elementary school kids did not shame Congress into action; why would the murder of nine people at a community college be a game changer?

Precisely because Congress did nothing after Newtown, my friend said. Having learned for certain (if we didn’t already know) that our representatives are way too beholden to their biggest donors to do anything about gun violence, we won’t wait for them anymore. Change will have to come the way it always does – as a result of mass action on the part of citizens.

After all, as humorist Andy Borowitz points out, “a vast majority of Americans, in fact, do not want to be shot.”

Amid the adorable pet videos, the don’t-you-wish-you-were-eating-this pix, and the here-we-are-at-the-game selfies on my Facebook page this week, there are a lot of posts pertaining to the urgent need for more gun control.

Can all this online chatter coalesce into an effective mass movement, or is it mere slacktivism – that wonderful term denoting online political speech that never goes beyond posting or sharing or, heaven help us, “liking?”

All we are asking, we Americans who do not want to be shot, is that our laws make guns harder to get. Most criminals are only going to commit a crime if you make it easy for them.

This is why we lock our doors. It’s not that hard to break into a locked house if you really want in, but it’s a lot harder than walking in through an unlocked door. Most burglars will take their trade elsewhere.

Or as Adam Gopnik wrote in the New Yorker after Newtown, “Demand an extraordinary degree of determination and organization from someone intent on committing a violent act, and the odds that the violent act will take place are radically reduced, in many cases to zero.”

While waiting for a light to change in Altoona recently I saw an electronic billboard that flashed ads for a gun shop, a hospice program and an emergency room, one after another, over and over.  

Though the sign sequence was slightly out of order, the juxtaposition rang all too true.



A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for StateCollege.com won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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